Finished or Not: The Perils of Incompleteness

30 Jun

In light of a recent conversation with Jim Shepard, the Wizard of Williamstown (which should soon see the light of day,somewhere):

RB:I no longer feel compelled or obliged to finish books.

JS: Yeah, that’s really characteristic of a life spent reading. I am struck, when I talk to students or younger writers how much—I guess I remember that feeling too—how much they feel like,” No. If I got this far in I want to say I did it [finished]?”

RB: There is always the occasional book that it takes longer to figure out.

JS; That’s the danger. If you bail too soon. I try to give books every possible reason to keep reading. But I don’t, any longer feel bad about bailing. Its not anger or contempt—its “I think I get the idea here.”

I gave some thought to my recent experiences with two new novels. One, Ghost Lights(WW Norton), by Lydia Millet is forthcoming this fall. The other, Once Upon A River (also WW Norton) is Bonnie Jo Campbell’s recent offering. Neither author is normally on my radar, though both are well-regarded.

I picked up the Millet, as I do with most new books that land on my doorstep and began reading. I continued as the prose was nimble and bemused and I wondered how the protagonist was going to transition from the opening scene where he places himself in an animal shelter recounts some previous experience. Something about Millet’s prose made it easy for me to continue, though I grew less engaged with the story as a I proceeded. Since I became aware of this at around page 150, I forged on. I am not unhappy to have completed this novel but at some point finishing it was not about my enjoyment.

Bonnie Jo Campbell also has fine reputation. But the fact that an acquaintance to whom I had given the book, raved about it, was the prime mover for me picking up Once Upon A River. Happily, I was immediately transfixed by the opening— which was a snapshot of the story’s young protagonist,Margo Crane. I haven’t gotten very far into this book but I do know I feel quite eager to return to it.  

So it goes.

One Response to “Finished or Not: The Perils of Incompleteness”


  1. Stone Arabia Roundtable — Part Two - July 12, 2011

    […] the meantime (or the same time), I had one of my periodic conversations with Jim Shepard, The Wizard of Williamstown). Part of our talk hit home immediately: RB: I no […]

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